> Climate Change

 

WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?

It is becoming increasingly clear that climate change will result in entirely new weather patterns and that these will have a profound influence on agriculture at all scales(MDPI). Therefore adaptability and resilience in production systems will become increasingly important to enable farmers to cope with climate change and more extreme climate variability.

 

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say that 10 – 12 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases (GHG) are attributed to agriculture. The IPCCs fourth assessment report recommends the use of practices which are already standard in organic agriculture for mitigating climate change.

Further, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) regards organic agriculture as an effective strategy for mitigating climate change and building robust soils that are better adapted to extreme weather conditions associated with climate change.

According to CABI (a non-profit science-based development and information organization) the overall effect of climate change on cotton growth and development is, on balance, going to be detrimental. The negative effect of water limitation will be greater than the beneficial effects of moderate temperature and elevated CO2 and so cotton yield is expected to decrease under climate change. Future climate change scenarios for the Mississippi Delta, USA, for example, estimate a 9 percent mean loss in fiber yield (CABI). Important cotton producing areas such as China, India and Pakistan are becoming increasingly water limited leading to potential conflicts and loss of production.

The Swiss development organisation Helvetas Intercooperation has explored the data available for both conventional and organic cotton production and compared the CO2e for each stage of cotton production. Results indicated that organic cotton production has a significantly lower impact; generating approximately 0.3 kg CO2 Eq. / kg lint compared to 5.3 kg CO2 Eq. / kg lint for conventionally grown cotton (Organic & Fair). Saving are a result of no agrichemical application, carbon sequestration by the soil (not so much the fiber), and less available nitrous oxide / urea.

Early studies by the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department (FAO) suggest that an important potential contribution of organically managed systems to the mitigation of climate change is the careful management of nutrients and the subsequent reduction of N2O emissions from the soil. These early studies are showing a potential 20 percent reduction of emission simply by not using mineral fertilisers and a compensation potential by carbon sequestration of about 40-72 percent of the world’s current annual agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (FAO).

Adapting to climate change is a common approach to managing climate modification. While scientists are busy experimenting with different adaptive-farming techniques, several hypotheses have suggested organic farming could be a feasible response to climate change.

Studies, such as the FAO one discussed above, are showing that organic agriculture is more resilient, and better at adapting, to both wet and dry climatic stresses than conventional farming. Resilience is a result of crop diversification, and increased soil fertility on organic farms which is a result of more soil organic matter (SOM). Potentially signifying organic agriculture as a more reliable way to grow food and fiber in an age of changing climate, particularly for small scale farmers in developing countries.

ENERGY USE

Organic cotton agriculture employs more labour (and oxen power) to carry out planting, ploughing, and picking rather than vehicles (such as tractors and harvesters) which require fossil fuels. Most organic cotton is hand-picked.

MITIGATION & SEQUESTRATION

Carbon ‘mitigation’ and ‘sequestration’ are terms used to describe measures for reducing concentrations of greenhouse gases, either by reducing their sources or by increasing the sinks which take them out of the atmosphere. Agronomists say that arable soils naturally have a major potential for sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2). However, the use of industrial fertilizers and chemical pesticides has led to a loss of vital soil organic matter over the years.

According to the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) organic farming offers a number of solutions to climate protection. By promoting soil organic matter, atmospheric CO2 can be sequestered and thus organic farming can contribute to achieving climate objectives. Scientists at the Rodale Institute in the USA say that “Organic agriculture sequesters carbon dioxide quickly and affordably, while conventional agriculture produces greater emissions”.

How does soil carbon sequestration work? Organic farming strives to build humus in the soil in order to improve soil fertility. Humus formation increases soil stability and water retention capacity and thus reduces the soil’s susceptibility to erosion. Humus provides more favourable conditions for soil organisms and stimulates soil biota. An increased humus content also leads to increased sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil.

Using farmyard manure, slurry, compost, and other organic fertilizers to fertilize the soil can contribute to increasing soil organic matter. Careful soil cultivation also leads to organic matter being stored in the upper soil strata. Moreover, maintaining a continuous green cover of actively assimilating plants causes a continuous flow of assimilation through the plant roots into the soil.

What about tillage? Often, organic cotton production has been considered less capable of sequestering carbon due to the use of tillage to remove weeds, etc. In answer, the Soil Association explains that organic production, including cotton, in developing countries does not use extensive tillage to remove weeds, especially where weed growth is not prolific and also that in the majority of studies into tillage the soil carbon levels are only measured in the top soil layers (and not through the whole soil profile). When deeper and more representative sample is taken organic soils would come out better. Scientists are finding that ‘organic low-till’ is the ultimate combination. 

ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE

Nowhere, is adaptation more important than in the marginal zones of developing countries, where much of the agriculture is dependent on rainfall: the right amount at the right time. These days, farmers are finding rainy seasons are changing, and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are getting worse.

The soil sequestration qualities of humus described above also increases the adaptability of agricultural systems to a changing climate. This is due to the more resilient nature of the soils, the diversity of crops in the system, and the ability of organic agriculture to better withstand extreme climatic fluctuations. Further, in terms of food security, the Rodale Institute found that after the initial three year transition period, the organic systems in their Farming Systems Trial achieved yields comparable to the conventional systems. Organic yields have been 28- 34 percent higher than conventional yields in especially dry and wet years.

Other studies show the same. In developing countries, organic agricultural systems achieve equal or even higher yields, as compared to the current conventional practices, which translate into a potentially important option for food security and sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor in times of climate change.

More work is required in progressing work on adaptation to climate change. Not necessarily in ‘proving’ the benefits of organic agriculture as an adaptation measure (particularly in developing countries) but more in assisting the knowledge exchange between farmers, extension providers, and policy makers, and implementing practical action. 

A closer look at Africa

A study of cotton producers’ perceptions of climatic changes, the consequences, and the different adaptive measures taken in order to deal withconsequences was carried out by CIRAD. Results showed that recent climate trends perceived by producers were: irregular rainfalls, shortening of cultivation season, occurrence of violent winds and an increase of temperatures.

[download study in French]

OBEPAB experiences There has been a debate in Benin for years about the impact of climate change on agriculture. The more arid north was hit by a series of droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. The north has one rainy season, running from May to October. The south has two - from April to July and from August to October, allowing farmers to produce crops twice.

Nevertheless, anecdotal and real-life experiences reveal the adaptation capacity of organic farming; such as the two incidents of OBEPAB (a Beninese NGO-partnered organic cotton producer group) described below.

The torrential rainfall in Benin in late 2010 combined with record-high water levels on all the major rivers caused severe flooding throughout the country, which resulted in extensive damages to dwellings, livestock, crops, and social and economic infrastructure. Last year’s floods, which hit 55 of Benin’s 77 communes, from north to south, reached even areas previously considered immune (World Bank).

Rreports from OBEPAB and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) revealed that organic farmers were more resilient to the flooding due to the variety of crops planted and to some extent the greater tolerance for stress demonstrated by organically grown plants (including cotton). Where many farmers lost entire crops, organic farmers managed to salvage enough to maintain a level of food security and even had product available for sale to local markets.

The second is related to the resilience to pest shock. During the season 2008-09, there was a very severe pest attack on cotton in the cotton basin of northern Benin.  As a consequence, yields were drastically affected. Pesticide vendors and politicians were accused of having delivered fake pesticides to cotton farmers. This situation led to the resignation of the Minister of Agriculture.

However, during the same time and in the same cotton basin, organic cotton farmers did not face the same high pest pressures and their yields were among the best in their history of organic cotton production.

These two instances, even if they are far from conclusive scientific proof, suggest at least that organic farming has some potential in absorbing the impacts of climate change. There is certainly a need for more systematic monitoring of the capacity of organic farming to adapt to climate change.

 

WHO'S DOING WHAT?

bioRe Association: Climate Neutral Project

The vision for bioRe is to manufacture CO2-neutral and fashionable textiles from fair-trade organic cotton in a controlled and transparent chain of production. Target is to be CO2 neutral by 2013.

The first step is to minimize CO2 emissions across the entire textile chain by optimizing the process and perhaps using alternative carriers of energy. The remaining CO2 emissions will be offset in the bioRe® farming territories (India and Tanzania) through the building of biogas plants and efficient stoves. Most farmer families in India and Tanzania use traditional wood-burning stoves for cooking, consuming considerable amounts of firewood. These open stoves emit harmful soot particles that farmer families inhale. The building of biogas plants and efficient stoves will improve the farmers’ living conditions and help preserve the environment, in particular forest ecosystems.

Carbon footprint study: To calculate the carbon footprint of bioRe Textile across the bioRe textile supply chain a Life cycle assessment was conducted by Carbotech AG, a Swiss environmental consulting company. An LCA is currently the most comprehensive and most revealing of all methods available for assessing the environmental impacts of products and systems over their entire life cycle. For this reason, this method has been selected for this project to determine the environmental impacts of bioRe products. The definition of the goal, data inventory and assessment of environmental impacts are largely based on the ISO 14040 Standard.

Carbon footprint Study on Rural Cooking: For assessing the carbon footprint bioRe chose the Gold Standard methodology for a small scale biodigester. The carbon footprint study was carried out in rural areas of three districts in Madhya Pradesh and in one district of Maharashtra. In total, 526 rural households were under the study for required data collection. 

Realising and financing the bioRe compensation projects: The bioRe compensation project biogas and efficient stove in India are realised by the registered society bioRe Association. Further the efficient stove project in Tanzania is realized by the bioRe foundation Tanzania. All bioRe projects, including the compensation projects, are financed by the bioRe foundation Switzerland, which is receiving mainly donations from customers and Remei AG. There is no selling/ trading of carbon credits taking place for financing the bioRe compensations project. 

[For more about this bioRe carbon Neutral click here]

 

Chetna Organic: Integrated farming systems

To help insulate the fragile rain fed cotton based farming systems, and their thousands of farmers, from climate change, Chetna Organic has adopted a combination of best practices based on:

  • Diversification of seeds (to promote self reliance)
  • Diversity of cropping systems
  • Comprehensive management of natural resources based on the principles of watershed management

Seed: Chetna in collaboration with the University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad has undertaken seed trails with over 700 lines of cotton varieties including straight, regular and compact hybrids from four species of cotton. This will offer the farmers choice in cotton seed varieties with short to medium duration instead of only the long duration American hybrids. In addition, most of the varieties are tolerant to climatic changes (prolonged dry spells, flooding etc,) and biotic (insect pests and diseases) stresses. Seed diversification mitigates the farmer against the effects of climate change as it offers flexibility to adopt according to the rainfall pattern.

Crop diversification: Chetna promotes crop diversification with the combination of legumes (pigeon pea, cow pea, black gram and green gram) and vegetables not only to act as trap crops for the pest and diseases but also fix the nitrogen into the soils and retaining the subsoil moisture and maintain the favourable microbial diversity and populations in the soil. These crops also provide immediate food security needs for the farmer families.   

Natural resource management: Chetna has taken up natural resource management in collaboration with their brand business partners, and government agencies. Strategies  are being implemented based on utilizing the land within its capability and include protecting fertile top soil, replenishing soil fertility through diverse composting techniques, minimizing silting up of tanks, reservoirs and lower fertile lands, protecting vegetative cover throughout the year, in situ conservation of rain water, safe diversion of gullies, construction of check dams for increasing ground water recharge, increasing cropping intensity through inter and sequence cropping, alternate land use systems for efficient use of marginal lands, and water harvesting for supplemental irrigation.

[For more about this project click here]

 

FURTHER READING

IFOAM http://www.ifoam.org/growing_organic/1_arguments_for_oa/environmental_benefits/climatechange.html

FiBL http://www.fibl.org/en/themen/climate-change.html

Rodale Institute http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20090206/gw1

Soil Association 
http://www.soilassociation.org/Whyorganic/Climatefriendlyfoodandfarming/Soilcarbon/tabid/574/Default.aspx

Carbon sequestration and organic agriculture, Maria Müller-Lindenlauf, Natural Resource Management and Environment Department, FAO 2009 ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/ak998e/ak998e00.pdf

Frison et al. Agricultural Biodiversity Is Essential for a Sustainable Improvement in Food and Nutrition Security, Sustainability, 2011, Issue 3, 238-253 http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/3/1/238/pdf

Cotton and climate change, Helvetas http://www.organicandfair.org/oftcc/Events/Documentation/_34_SO_1.PDF

Climate Change and Agricultural Commodities, CABI, 2010 2010 http://www.cabi.org/default.aspx?site=170&page=3782

Scialabba et al, Organic agriculture and climate change, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 2011 http://www.fao.org/docs/eims/upload/275960/al185e.pdf

Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa http://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/benin-under-water

Food and Agriculture Organisation http://www.fao.org/docs/eims/upload/275960/al185e.pdf